Warning: this is a no-edit zone....
This past weekend I had the privilege of attending the Emerald Coast Writers Conference. I say privilege deliberately because that is exactly what it was for me. Not only did I get to visit with some friends, I got to meet some new ones. And I sat in on some of the best craft workshops I've ever attended.
One of the best things about this conference is that the writers who attended it were all over the board. Some were brand new writers, just starting their first novel and one had twelve New York Times bestsellers. In short, all phases of a writer's career were represented.
What did they write? Thrillers, mystery, science fiction, historical fiction and historical biographies. They wrote literary fiction, romance and chick-lit and on women's issues. They wrote military fiction and children's stories. Some wrote short stories and an assortment in that format represented it well.
There were no holier-than-thou or more or lesser talents there. There were writers all appreciative of other writers' efforts, intimately aware of the challenges and the joys of accomplishing a goal, be it hitting the right structure for a specific story or selling a specific story.
It's been a while since I've been in the company of a large mix of diverse writers. And I loved it. The enthusiasm level was high. The straight skinny on the business and the challenges it's currently facing were discussed, but those things did nothing to diminish the enthusiasm for craft. The love of writing.
In one workshop, I found a new author, Terry Lewis. He clipped excerpts from his work as examples, and his voice was so strong and powerful that I found myself focusing on the story, not the structure lesson he was teaching. I was enchanted by that writer's story voice. It was smooth and seasoned and strong and it so fit the story.
After the workshop, I asked which of his books he liked best. He told me, and I went to the conference bookstore, and saw he'd written two books. I know me, and I know voice is all-important in writing. So I saved myself shipping costs and just bought both his hard covers at once. I knew after reading the first book, I'd be ordering the second. Might as well get them now and save that shipping fee--and the side benefit, I don't have to wait for delivery!
One of the instructors had to leave early, and so I ended up teaching three workshops. At the end of each of them, I asked if everyone had gotten what they needed, and they said they had, so I consider that they went well. These were exciting for me because during the Q & A session, I got to hear about their stories. I got to hear where they were stuck, what was working, what wasn't. We worked through the what wasn't, and I have to tell you, one of the most exhilarating things for someone teaching a workshop is to see writers' enthusiasm for their works. It was there in spades! I loved that.
The keynote was Philip Margolin. He writes intense legal thrillers and is the first to tell you how fortunate he's been in his career. I enjoyed his discussions and his workshops and one of the most impressive things about him was his genuine desire for feedback from his readers. I knew he was a smart man. But that tells me he's a very smart writer, too.
I bought three of his novels. His first--because earlier works are often most original. One the bookseller, who is a huge fan and claims as her favorite--because booksellers are hard to please and if she loves it, odds are it's a great read. And his newest book, because after listening to him, I know he's not a stagnant writer. He's pushing to continue to learn and grow and that makes for strong, strong books.
So it was a great conference. A time of renewal for me. Renewing my commitment to help other writers when I can. Rejuvenation of enthusiasm. Reconnecting with other writers on a personal level and enjoying their love for the craft and their enthusiasm for words and stories and writing. And--having now read one book each from my two new authors--I can say that I've found two new writers whose books I will read on release. Both were as excellent on the printed page as I had hoped they would be in the classroom.
I heard one of the best short stories I've heard in at least a decade. It isn't yet published but it is currently entered in an international writing competition and I have high hopes for it. The author is Dick Bauer, and I have fingers, toes and even eyes crossed that it scores off the charts. Excellent suspense storytelling.
A conference just can't get more successful than that.
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